by Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) Do you remember a few years ago, when “digital” was this new and confusing discipline that everyone wanted a piece of but no one knew how?

It was a time when suddenly there were “specialists” popping up everywhere and agencies all over the world either opened up a digital hot-shop or a department within their main agency to specialise in this new digital development.

Golden Dragon Statue on White Background by bugphai courtesy of
Image by bugphai courtesy of

Relative ignorance

We all talked the digital talk, in relative ignorance, as panic spread through the corridors that other agencies were ahead and that it would be “our” team that would be left behind.

Then, as the years went by, we all realised that digital should never have been this silo-ed, scary discipline placed into separate teams with separate briefs, but that it was a critical part of every idea and every brief and that every team should be trained and including it.

We realised it was costing us double in time and money to keep double-briefing separate teams and trying to fuse everything at the last minute before presenting to the client. Remember those days?

Cycle is starting again

This cycle (of early-days ignorance) is starting again, except this time it’s shopper marketing that is the scary dragon looming at the agency front door. And yes, yet again, everyone is running to open their own department to house it!

I have recently been asked by several people for my opinion on the establishment of shopper marketing expertise into agency networks and my answer is always the same: The solution isn’t to create a new team or department and to sell this newfound skill as a new billable set of heads, but simply to focus on integration.

Just as agencies wouldn’t dream of presenting work today without a digital or mobile solution, no agency should be presenting work without the shopper solution to support the consumer idea. Gone, gone, gone are the days when an acceptable shopper solution is a wobbler or poster that resembles the TV or print, with the addition of a “buy and win” message stuck on!

‘Reapplication’ doesn’t work

As we knew with the banner ads we were making ‘back then’ (our print ad in extended vertical format…), we all know this ATL ‘reapplication’ to retail doesn’t work. The problem is we either don’t know any different or — and this is more often the case — we don’t want to invest the energy in thinking about what might actually make people purchase.

Agencies don’t want to embrace shopper marketing; they don’t want to learn outside their box. So, instead, the dragon’s layer is not only formed, now it’s marketed as a “specialist” unit that clients can pay extra for, and the team within it are segregated to a new corner of the open-plan office, doing nothing for the greater effectiveness of the work or quality of the talent.

Of course, full integration is nigh impossible to do overnight and, without a doubt, it will require the hiring of new talent into your existing teams to build the understanding within them.

Archaic approach

My point here is that I am blown away by the archaic approach of so many agencies “starting up” new shopper units.

Shopper marketing isn’t a demon or a two-headed monster or a science. Certainly, there are technicalities and retail methodologies to learn but, as 2014 proved, the work that works across the path to purchase to the store consists of smart, strategically-driven creative ideas — exactly what said agencies deliver daily, anyway.

The days of developing new departments purely to create the final piece of the creative presentation you are already doing is not only old-fashioned but also expensive, clunky and the absolute opposite of dynamic, holistic idea-creation.

Why? Why? Why?

Why silo the teams further and then have to spend double the time briefing separately and then trying to integrate the ‘shopper’ team’s thoughts with the ‘main’ creative team? Why even create a divide in the first place, a divide that teaches your younger talent that this “shopper thing” is anything other than 100% critical for marketing in the 21st century? And why waste time when it’s a sure bet that, in a year or two, the teams will fold into one, anyway?

Every team will need shopper marketing expertise, just as every team already needs digital understanding and talent.

The dragon may be new (ish), yes. The dragon may speak jargon and concepts and have approaches unfamiliar to the agency — but the dragon is friendly, massively profitable and 100% necessary to selling your clients’ brands in today’s market.

Embrace the dragon

Don’t slay it — slay the perceptions that surround it. Because, whether you like it or not, it’s half way through the door and your people need to embrace the dragon — fire and all. Putting it in a box full of ‘specialists’ will do nothing for your long-term momentum in 2015 and beyond.

Shopper marketing should be part and parcel of every brief and nearly every solution and idea — never the ‘add on’ done on the side.

I hope by next January more people will agree with me.

Mimi, Savior of Dragons


Mimi NicklinMimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) has followed her passion and experience in the consumer, retail and shopper space around the world, from regional roles in Europe and Asia to South African shores in 2010 (where she served for four years as strategic director and a partner at 34 Group.) She has recently relocated back to Asia as global vice president of Grey Group Singapore. Mimi continues to contribute monthly to “The Sell” column — focusing on global shopper marketing, retail and through-the-line communication — to MarkLives.

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